Family Help Hub
Our family services provide education about the roles of investigating agencies, the investigation process, and the systems and services in place to assist children and families affected by abuse.
What are the signs of child abuse? How can I know if a child is being abused?
If you suspect that a child in your family is being abused, but you aren’t sure, there are a few signs that you can watch out for to help you decide whether or not you need to intervene. Tragically, the list of potential warning signs for abuse is incredibly long.
While some of these signs are a clear warning that a report needs to be made as soon as possible, others may be an innocent accident or other life circumstances. Use your best judgment and continue to monitor the situation if you aren’t yet sure that there’s a problem.
- The child is withdrawn from their peers
- Appears fearful, particularly of loud noises or sudden movements
- Begins to act more aggressively toward other children
- The child passionately pursues affection from adults
- Acts confrontational
- Is on constant alert
- Is avoiding social gatherings
- Is suddenly unconcerned about activities they were once interested in
- Suffering grades
- Stifled emotional development
- Unexpected difficulty focusing and learning
- Feelings of unworthiness
- Loss of confidence
- Regression in development, such as bed-wetting
- Frequent outbursts or loss of emotional control
- Suicidal ideation or attempts
- The child has few friends
- Doesn’t have proper clothes for different seasons
- Doesn’t attend school functions
- Has experience running away from home
- Isn’t being supervised by adults
- Asking for or stealing food, money, or supplies
- Low self-esteem, unusual fears
- Poor hygiene
- Excessive school absences
- Stashing food
- Resistance to going home
- The parent or guardian ignores suggestions that the child should see a doctor
- Premature knowledge of sex
- Inappropriate sexual jargon
- Acting promiscuously
- Leaving home without permission
- Flinching or being uncomfortable being embraced
- Inexcusable or unexplained animal cruelty
- Being more private or quiet than normal
- Suddenly being afraid of being apart from caregivers or alone with a particular person
- Hesitance in changing or removing clothes
- Increased nightmares or fear of being alone at night
- Body dysmorphia
- Changing eating habits
- Bruising on the face, in the shape of a hand or object, in places where children aren’t normally injured, or groups of bruises in the same area
- Unexplained burn marks, cigarette burns, burns from submerging the hands or feet in liquid, burns to the buttocks or genitals, burns caused by restraints or carpet
- Abrasions to the child’s face, cuts or tears inside the mouth, lacerations or cuts to the genitals or buttocks, lacerations to the scalp, or hair loss
- Unexplained headaches or stomach pain
- Noticeable changes in weight and appearance
- Irregular walking
- Trouble sitting
- Discomfort, itching, or soreness of the genital region
- Frequent urination
- Injury or bruising in the genital region
- Blood-stained or damaged undergarments
- Venereal disease
- Yeast infections
What should I do if I think a child in my family is being abused?
If you believe a child is in danger, call 911. If you think a child in your family is being abused but they’re not in any immediate danger, you can call the Child Protective Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-252-5400 to report the abuse. Be ready to provide relevant information, including:
- The victim’s whereabouts
- The victim’s age
- Any wounds or injuries you’ve observed
- Any incidents you’ve directly observed
- Any changes in emotion or behavior you’ve observed
- Insights from other children living in the house
- Phone numbers for the child’s family, if possible
Again, the most important thing for you to do, if you believe a child is being abused, is to report that abuse.
What should I say if a child makes a disclosure of abuse to me?
First of all, it’s important to report any disclosures of abuse that you hear from a child. However, directly following disclosure, it can be difficult to know how to react and what to say. There are a few steps you can follow to support the child during this difficult interaction:
- Show concern but not alarm. Remain calm.
- Avoid probing questions. Allow the child to tell the story.
- Let the child know that what happened wasn’t their fault.
- Don’t pass judgment. Victims often have conflicted feelings about their abusers.
- Do not investigate the claim.
- Do not make promises you can’t keep. Don’t say everything will be ok.
- Let the child know you’ll be talking to people who can help them.
- Make sure the child knows you’re available to talk again.
Hearing a disclosure is never easy, but the most important thing is to be there to support and comfort the child. Respect and honor the courage it took for the child to tell you their story and do your best to help them.
What can I do to support victims of child abuse in my family?
If a case of child abuse has been reported within your family, or you made the report yourself, you’re probably asking yourself what you can do to help the victim involved. That’s a great impulse, and it’s important that children feel supported and loved during this difficult time. To do your best to provide support for your loved one, there are a few dos and don’ts you can follow:
- Be patient with the behavioral changes the child may experience.
- Tell the child you’re concerned about them and are there to help.
- Help the child tell their truth and express their feelings.
- Restore the child’s sense of control by allowing them to make decisions while assuring them that you’re there to help.
- Be honest and open with the child if the subject of the abuse comes up.
- Be sure the child knows you aren’t angry with them and that they did nothing wrong.
- Help the child identify safe people to turn to when they’re scared or sad.
- Be considerate and aware of other children in the household. Make sure they have the information and support they need.
- Encourage the child’s non-offending guardian to return to normal routines as soon as possible.
- Do not be overly protective. Instead, be a source of calm and comfort. Don’t escalate the child’s fear or anxiety.
- Never blame a child for the abuse they’ve suffered.
- Do not cause the child to be more fearful of other people than they already are.
- Do not push the child to talk about the abuse.
Resources for Support
ChildHelp National Child Abuse Hotline
Call, text, or chat online 24/7 for support and guidance. All contact is confidential.
Texas Child Protective Services
Call 24/7 to anonymously report abuse and get help.
National Sexual Assault Hotline
Call or chat online 24/7 to be connected to crisis support and resources in your area. All calls are confidential.
National Runaway Switchboard
Call, text, or chat online 24/7 to get crisis support and resources in your area. All contact is confidential.